Bad Boys at Byersville

A letter published in the Joplin News Herald offers a hint to some of the problems that arose in Southwest Joplin:

EDITORS-HERALD: – Will you please give a little space in your columns in the interest of the quiet and law-abiding of the district known as Byersville in southwest Joplin. The good people of this part of the city pay taxes to keep up a police force, and think that they are entitled to at least some little protection. It is a fact, although I am almost ashamed to acknowledge it, that we have some very bad boys. They have been warned many times, but it seems that the warning has no effect on them. They often disturb the peace by loud and unnecessary noises, throwing rocks, and have gone so far as to egg houses that are occupied by quiet families. We ask the city authorities to see that quiet is kept in this part of the town. The boys gather on the store porches at late hours and make such noises that break the rest of peaceful citizens. They even go so far as to make fun of and tantalize citizens on the streets or in their own enclosures. There are a half-dozen or more of them. While many of us would just like to see our neighbor’s boys in trouble, we must have the nuisances stopped: And it will be better for the boys, for if allowed to continued, some day they will receive sentence for a grave crime, then they will say: “If the better citizens had arrested me for some small offense it would have saved me from this everlasting disgrace.” Now, boys, take warning, be good boys and grow up to be good men and you will an honor to the community, and if you do not you will have to face the police court and take the consequences.

A Quiet Citizen.

Source: Joplin Morning Herald, 1892

The Boxer McCormick

Over the years, Joplin saw its share of characters.   Alvin Clarence Thomas, the pool shark better known as “Titanic” Slim Thompson; Bonnie and Clyde; and Jim McCormick were just a few of the colorful folks who stopped but never stayed.

Boxer Jim McCormick

Boxer Jim McCormick

You may not recognize the name Jim McCormick unless you are a hardcore boxing fan.  McCormick, a native of Galveston, Texas, was at one time a notable boxer.  During his career he fought both John L.  Sullivan (Sullivan’s last match) and Jack Johnson (twice).

McCormick ran into trouble when he came to Joplin with business on the mind.  After meeting with a man named Dunham about opening a boxing school in Joplin, an altercation ensued, and McCormick was picked up for assault and robbery.

His wife, Lucretia Vincent McCormick, hired the Joplin law firm of Clay and Shepherd to defend her husband.  The two reportedly met when McCormick worked as Sullivan’s sparring partner and Vincent, a vaudeville singer, was part of Sullivan’s entourage while in Seattle, Washington.  They married in March, 1905, and had lived previously in Topeka, Kansas.  Interestingly, Lucretia noted that her husband’s real surname was Heiman, but used his mother’s surname of McCormick as his ring name.

Mrs. McCormick

Mrs. Jim McCormick

Although the details of McCormick’s life are incomplete, it can be assumed that after he and Lucretia hit the road in search of better luck.

Source: Joplin Globe

The Shooting of Ben Collier

In previous posts we’ve covered shootouts, robberies, and prostitutes.  Sometimes, however, officers of the law made the headlines – for the wrong reasons.

On a fall evening in 1906, Joplin Patrolman Johnson was standing outside the Mascot Saloon at the corner of Tenth and Main.  It was 9:30 at night.  The sun had set and it was a cool Friday night.  Johnson may have anticipated trouble, but not until Saturday night, which was when the miners were paid their weekly wages.  Special Officer Ben Collier swiftly walked past Johnson and entered the Mascot.

Shots rang out from inside the saloon.  Johnson dashed inside and saw Police Day Captain Will J.  Cofer standing with a gun in each hand.  One gun belonged to Special Officer Ben Collier; the other, still smoking, belonged to Cofer.  Cofer laid Collier’s gun down on a beer keg and then began to holster his pistol.  Patrolman Johnson, however, demanded, “Give me those guns.” Cofer obliged.  Johnson then noticed the motionless body of Ben Collier lying on the floor of the saloon.  Johnson checked for a pulse, but found Collier was dead.

Interior of the Mascot Saloon

Sketch of the interior of the Mascot Saloon

Johnson took Cofer into custody and headed for the city jail.  On the way Johnson was met by Assistant Chief of Police Jake Cofer, who was Will Cofer’s uncle (and was commonly known around Joplin as “Uncle Jake” as he had served for several years on the police force), who took charge of his nephew.  Upon arriving at the city jail, Jake Cofer asked Will to remove his police badge, and then locked him in a jail cell.

It appears that the difficulty between Will Cofer and Ben Collier began over a woman named Rose Proctor.  She was described as a “small and pretty blonde” who lived at 1216 Main Street.  Proctor was reportedly estranged from her husband who still lived in Illinois.  She may have come to Joplin due to the fact she “had several married sisters” living in Joplin.

Will “Rabbit” Cofer was a twenty-three year old married father of five year old son.  At the age of 17, he married a woman from Pierce City who was ten years his senior.  His father, Tom Cofer, served as Joplin Chief of Police before moving to Portland, Oregon.  Will stayed in Joplin and worked as a blacksmith and in the mines before joining the police force.  He had only been on the police force for a year, but was supposedly a satisfactory officer.

Ben Collier, who, at age 55, was older than Cofer, arrived in Joplin in the mid-1880s.  He worked as a butcher for several years before became involved in mining.  Collier eventually served on the police force, but left to become a private watchman.  He was still working as a private watchman when he tangled with Cofer.  Collier’s first wife had died and was allegedly estranged from his second wife who lived in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Cofer and Collier had quarreled in the past.  A Joplin Globe reporter had been standing on the street with Cofer the previous Wednesday when Cofer reportedly pointed to Collier and remarked, “There stands a fellow who has sworn he will kill me and I am afraid that he will try to do it before long.  If he would only come to me and tell me about it, it would be a different matter and we might get things straightened up, but he always talks behind my back.”

Members of the Joplin police force knew that the two men disliked one another and did their best to keep them apart.  Upon learning the Will Cofer was in the Mascot Saloon with Rose Proctor, Uncle Jake Cofer had sent word to his nephew that if he [Will] had any respect for him, Will would leave both the saloon and Rose.  Will Cofer, however, ignored his uncle.

Later that night, around 8 o’clock, Ben Collier appeared at the boarding house room that Rose Proctor called home, but was told she was not home.  Collier then spent an hour visiting with Proctor’s next door neighbor, May Stout, who told Collier that Rose was out with Will Cofer.  When he learned that Rose was with Will, Collier allegedly remarked, “I’ll kill him if I can find him tonight.” He then stalked out of the boarding house.  May Stout tried to call the Mascot Saloon to warn Will and Rose, but failed to reach them in time.  That’s when Ben Collier strode past Patrolman Johnson, entered the saloon, and a series of shots rang out.

There were only a few witnesses: “Red” Murphy, a cook at the Sapphire restaurant; Fred Palmer, bartender at the Mascot Saloon; and Rose Proctor.  In her statement to the police, Rose said she and Will Cofer were drinking a bottle of beer when Collier came in.  Collier called out, “Rose, come to me.” Rose coyly asked, “What do I want to come to you for?” Cofer, looking at Collier, offered to take Rose home.

Collier, enraged by Cofer’s interference, growled, “I have been looking for you and I have got you now!” The two men were standing roughly six feet apart when Collier drew his .44 caliber revolver but Cofer beat him to the draw.  Cofer managed to hit Ben Collier three times above the heart with his .38 caliber revolver.  Collier fell to the floor dead.

Will Cofer

A sketch of Will Cofer

Rose Proctor’s testimony was verified by the two other witnesses.   Upon examination, Collier’s revolver was half-cocked and had not been fired before Collier fell dead.  Jasper County Sheriff John Marrs arrived and ordered Collier’s body be sent to the Joplin Undertaking Company.

At the coroner’s inquest the next day, Rose Proctor and Fred Palmer, the bartender, testified that Collier pulled his gun on Cofer the minute he entered the saloon.  Proctor also testified she had attended “the races at Carthage” earlier in the week with Cofer.  After Collier found out, he waved his revolver at her and threatened to pull the trigger.

Patrolman Henry Burns testified that Collier had told him that morning that he would “get” Cofer “before night.” Joplin Police Night Captain Ogburn testified Collier had made threats against Cofer earlier in the year.  After the coroner’s jury made a trip to the Mascot Saloon to see the scene of the crime, the members made their decision: Cofer killed Collier in self-defense and was free to go.  Cofer shook hands with his friends and then resigned from the Joplin police force.

By 1910, Will Cofer and his wife Amelia were living in Portland, Oregon, where he shoed horses for a living.  According to the federal census, their son died between 1906 and 1910.  The couple was childless.

Curiously, in 1920, Will’s wife is listed as Rose.  His first wife, Amelia, either passed away or the couple divorced.  It seems unlikely, however, that this was Rose Proctor as this Rose listed her birth place as Oregon.  What is certain, though, is that a shooting took place in a Joplin saloon on a crisp fall night and Ben Collier lost much more than his heart.

Sources: Joplin Globe; 1900, 1910, 1920 federal census

Progress

From the city’s founding in 1873, a spirit of progress seemed to buoy Joplin.  This illustration from the Joplin Globe exemplifies that spirit of a city that believed that growth and industry was ever in its future.

Joplin Progress

Progress in the future!

Source: Joplin Globe

A Hotel Pool at 4th and Main

Several youngsters who rode past the place on bicycles deliberately rode down the long board incline that leads into the pit and plunged, wheel, clothes, and all, into the murky pool.

No trace of the old Joplin Hotel remained by late July, 1906.  Excavation was well underway for the new hotel when a summer torrential downpour occurred on July 20.  Over the hours as the rain fell the great pit, from which the Connor Hotel would eventually rise, filled with water.  When the sun rose the next day, to the delight of Joplin’s urchins, a veritable swimming hole at the corner of the city’s economic district reflected the morning light.  Encouraged by the July heat, boys quickly took advantage of the “hotel pool.”

A Joplin Globe article described the enthusiasm of the boys to partake in its cool, wet relief, “The youngsters did not disrobe before entering; such a move would have brought down upon them the wrath of the law.  They simply plunged in, clothes and all, a very few of them removing their outer shirts before the plunge.”  In addition to the swimming and diving, the boys soon discovered wooden boards that were quickly plied into use as rafts.  Envious youthful onlookers, who had failed to secure such craft when the opportunity allowed, willingly paid several cents, upward to a dime, to purchase either a ride on a raft or a raft itself.

Swimming pool at the old Joplin Hotel

A quick sketch of the swimming festivities at 4th and Main

The fun and games did not last forever, at least for a boy named Robert.  His aquatic fun ended upon the discovery of his mother of finding her son, fully clothed, splashing about the rain-filled pit.  The last that was seen of poor Robert was his mother leading him away with a firm grip on his ear.

Source: Joplin Globe

Clothes are like Baseball

In the bustling boom town of Joplin, businesses needed to advertise, even those located on the prime real estate of the 400 block on Main Street.  Here the Model Company attempts to lure in fans of baseball.  It’s possible, if the drawing was done locally, that one of Joplin’s local fields was the model for this baseball scene.

Model company baseball ad

Baseball is as fertile an advertising ground in the past as it is today.

The Joplin Night Owls

Previously, Historic Joplin has mentioned one African-American baseball team in Joplin’s past, the Joplin Shadies of the 1890’s. This was not the only organized black baseball team, and perhaps it was the successor to a team that played for about half a century.

The Joplin Night Owls of 1910 were considered a championship team of Southwest Missouri. The year before the team had won twenty-six of twenty-eight games, losing only two. Not supported as the Joplin Miners, the Night Owls were forced to practice at the cemetery grounds of South Joplin. Though, an article that year reported an expectation that at some point the team would be able to practice in the “old” Miners Park. The same article announced the manager as Lindley. One of the first games of the season was to be in St. Louis against the Grays, likely the Murdock Grays, who later became the Homestead Grays (a noted Negro League team).

Sources: Joplin News Herald and Negro League Baseball Players Association.

Joplin’s First Florist

Pink rose

Thomas Green, a native of Manchester, England, was reportedly Joplin’s first florist.  He immigrated to the United States in 1867 with his wife, Caroline Hathaway Taylor Green.  The two were married on the Isle of Man and Mrs.  Taylor claimed William Shakespeare’s wife as a distant cousin.  In 1877, The Taylors arrived in Joplin and  Thomas Green bought property in “the western residence district of Joplin.” Within a few years he established flower gardens and later a greenhouse where he raised vegetables.

The glass greenhouses allegedly extended over the entire “half block between Second and Third Streets on Byers Avenue.” He could be seen “early every morning and late every evening working with his flowers.” Green hired Benjamin Crum, who went on to establish his own greenhouse business at the corner of Seventh and Jackson.  Green, it was remarked, supplied flowers for hundreds, if not thousands, of Joplin weddings and funerals.  He was undoubtedly a well known man who provided a service one might not expect in a rough and tumble mining town, but one certainly in demand with the dangers of the mines.

Sources: Joplin Globe, Livingston’s History of Jasper County